Almost everyone loves Italian food. But your restaurant might not be serving the same food as that offered in a ristorante in Rome or Florence – it’s probably American-Italian. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you claim to offer authentic Italian food to your patrons, you’d best deliver. Italians get quite vexed when people claim to be authentic Italian and just aren’t.

It will be difficult to replicate the taste of Italian food because we aren’t in Italy. The way food is grown, produced and prepared in Italy gives it a unique taste. However, trying to replicate it in South Africa is what counts at the end of the day.

The biggest misconception

Spaghetti meatballs are often seen as a universal symbol of Italian culinary tradition, but they’re not. Italians eat meatballs called polpette, which are smaller than the American version and are often eaten as a separate, second course or added to soups.

By 1920, more than four million Italians had emigrated to the US. Most of them came from southern Italy, which was a poor region. For them, meat was a luxury, but that wasn’t the case in the US. As a result, the dynamics of their food preparation changed. Creating meatballs was the perfect solution to cater to the amount of meat available.

Manicotti originated in Naples. It’s made up of stuffed manicotti shells, baked ziti, chicken parmesan and eggplant parmesan. In its simplest form, it can consist of oil, garlic and tomatoes called marinara. This one is easy to prepare. Besides that, manicotti sauce was popular in the US because tinned tomatoes were so widely available in grocery stores, as was spaghetti. In Italy, pasta isn’t seen as the main course, it’s more of an appetiser. But to cater to the Anglo-American diner’s love for starch, spaghetti was added to the dish.

It’s all about the region

If you think about it, there’s no such thing as “Italian food”. Each region has its own speciality and even cities in each region might do things differently. Bologna is known for its lasagne, Naples, its pizza, and Venice for polenta (similar to pap, but yellow in colour) and Schie (a type of shrimp). You could choose to offer only Sicilian cuisine, but you’ll have to do extensive research. You could also do a mix of regions. Just be sure to mention which region the dish comes from i.e. Sicilian-inspired Pasta Alla Norma.

Menu layout

Italians believe in La Dolce Vita or the good life, which is full of pleasure and indulgence. Part of this includes sitting down and having a meal – it should be enjoyed and not rushed. That’s why they have more than one course. Stick to this menu layout and Italians will love you for it.

Antipasti (starters): Light starters typically salumi (cold hams, salami) with cheese.

Primo piatto (first course): Usually rice (risotto), a pasta dish or soup, but rarely.

Secondo piatto (second course): Meat, fish or chicken.

Contorni (side dish): Vegetables or salad. This needs to be ordered separately.

Dolce (dessert): Typical dishes include cakes, ice creams and seasonal fresh fruit.

Popular Johannesburg Italian restaurant, Gemelli, has a menu that’s a perfect example. Take a quick look.

Now you’re ready to give your Italian restaurant a boost in its “authentic” factor. Be sure to add a sophisticated PoS system in the mix. Take a look at our beautiful infographic to see how hard our system works to get your dishes going. Mamma would be proud. .

Author : Rudi Badenhorst